24 May 2021

Canberra born Andy Bernal: The National Capital’s first Socceroo

| Tim Gavel
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Andy Bernal

The foundation of his football career: Andy Bernal playing for BelSouth FC. Photo: Supplied.

On the day I was scheduled to have a chat with Andy Bernal about his autobiography Riding Shotgun, he had to cancel as an interview request had come through from a London radio station.

At 55 years of age, he is still living life at a million miles an hour, and that is no exaggeration!

His life has gone into overdrive following the release of his autobiography. It covers his experience as David Beckham’s agent, bodyguard and translator during the period in 2003 when Beckham played for Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Book cover

The cover of Andy’s book, Riding Shotgun: The Autobiography of the Original Wizard of Oz. Photo: Supplied.

Andy says it is hard to describe how crazy that time in his life was, with hundreds of paparazzi in cars and on motorbikes chasing Beckham and his entourage through the streets of Madrid.

“I believed I was going to die in a car crash with David Beckham,” recalls Andy of those frantic days.

Andy Bernal with David Beckham

Andy with David Beckham. Photo: Supplied.

So how did he reach this point in his life?

In 1961, Andy’s parents travelled to Australia on the same ship, fleeing the poverty of Spain. They were totally unaware of one another’s existence until a chance meeting five years later in Queanbeyan. It was then that they discovered their related journey from Spain to Australia.

As a young boy growing up in Canberra, Andy possessed unbelievable talent as a footballer. He played juniors with BelSouth before joining Narrabundah, Canberra City Arrows then the AIS.

By this time, Andy had flattened the accelerator to the floor. He was on a trajectory that was not going to stop.

At 17, he was at the AIS. By 18, he had become the first Australian to sign with a Spanish La Liga team, joining Sporting Gijon in 1985.

He was now back in the country his parents had left many years before and he was at the pinnacle of world football.

But there was one thing standing in his way.

A degenerative knee condition presented a bleak future.

He was given little chance of running, let alone playing football at a high level. By the age of 21 years, after many operations, his left knee was devoid of the meniscus and articular bone cartilage. This meant that bone was rubbing on bone. This was a major handicap that would have ended the career of most, but Andy came through and resumed playing with his usual insatiable enthusiasm.

After spending three years in Spain, he ended up with the English club Ipswich Town, where he played 10 games before being deported to Australia after encountering visa problems.

Andy Bernal playing for Reading FC

Andy in his Reading FC playing days. Photo: Supplied.

In Australia, he played for Sydney Olympic in the National Soccer League, winning a national championship. Then a chance meeting saw him return to England with Reading FC where he played 226 games, including a championship playoff game at Wembley.

During this time, he also clocked up 21 games for the Socceroos.

When he finally retired through injury at 33 years of age, he found it hard to replicate the highs of football. That’s not to say there weren’t further highlights in his life, they just didn’t happen as often nor to the heights encountered during his playing days.

“After football, I went looking for highs in all the wrong places,” says Andy. “Cocaine started off as fun but ended up being destructive.”

It took Andy 10 years to shake the addiction.

“I began to realise the impact it had on my family, and I knew I had to find activities to fill the void.”

Before this fog, Andy became David Beckham’s agent, bodyguard and translator during the first four months of Beckham’s move to Real Madrid in 2003.

Andy Bernal on the Today Show

Andy on the Sunrise program during the promotion of his new book. Photo: Supplied.

Life with the Beckham family was, according to Andy, “the most insane ride I’ve ever been on”.

Not that Andy is about to divulge too many secrets.

“I turned down millions from media companies and UK tabloids wanting me to divulge information about David and his family, but despite their attacks on me personally, I could not be bought.”

Upon moving back to Canberra a few years ago, with his family providing a strong compass, he embraced a number of passions, including guiding the careers of young players like Carl Valeri and Tom Rojic, both of whom went on to become Socceroos.

“I’d like to be involved as a coach and mentor with national teams. I’ve been there, done that. I want to create a legacy helping our stars of the future. I’ve had plenty of highs and plenty of dark days, and because of these experiences, I think I have a lot to offer.”

Andy Bernal

Andy Bernal has more planned for his already full life. Photo: Supplied.

Writing the autobiography appears to have given him the high he craved when his playing days came to an end 22 years ago.

“It’s been cathartic; I feel free now. I’ve written the book for many reasons, including highlighting the importance of family in my life, as the son of immigrants seeking a better life, to being a husband and a father. Life has become less about me and more about others.”

And Andy has further plans for his book.

“To begin with, I’d like to translate my book into Spanish, then turn it into a movie.”

And there are more plans. “I’ve got another two or three books left in me, and I’m keen to explore sports broadcasting work.”

I said my goodbyes to Andy and walked to the car with the strong impression that I will hear more about the life of Andy Bernal in the not too distant future. He is a man with unique experience and he is eager to fit as much as possible into his life.

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Dom Polegubic7:58 pm 12 Jun 21

Enjoy an evening with Andy Bernal
Saturday the 19th of June at the Australian Croatian Club in Turner.

Includes dinner and a signed autobiography of book

If interested please contact Ivan on 0439630422


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